About three months back, I wrote a “deepfake” article about how computers can take one person's face and likeness and place them on another body to make things that never happened possible. I hadn't really thought much about the subject until last Wednesday night when I was browsing through my pre-bedtime entertainment articles. I still like reading about what's going on in the film business even if I haven't been as active of late.
Every now and then, you stumble across an article that makes you pause and re-evaluate if you've read the news correctly.
The Hollywood Reporter and Variety posted articles about James Dean starring in an upcoming movie. And yes, it's that James Dean. The Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden star.
A new Vietnam era war movie, titled Finding Jack, is taking Dean's likeness and recreating it via computer graphics. The role isn't going to be a split second cameo, either. It's a full secondary level role that the filmmakers decided to “cast” Dean in.
Let's look past the sheer morbid factor of the fact that Dean has been dead for 64 years now. As a working actor, a working LIVING actor, a move like this chaps my backside.
Anton Ernst, one of the film's directors claims that he “searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan,” who “Dean” would portray in the film. After months of searching, the director claimed, he decided the equivalent of a pre-rendered video game character is a more suitable selection than someone who not only studies the craft, but also has an actual pulse.
I can imagine the director made these statements without even the slightest sense of irony or self-awareness.
If that's not enough, the CEO of CMG Worldwide, Mark Roesler, added this jaw-dropper of a quote to the story: “This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.” Part of me wondered if he made that quote with a shovel in his hand as he planned to skip off towards the nearest Los Angeles cemetery. I understand the unemployment rate for the deceased is high these days, but the implications for this are beyond ghoulish.
Announcements like this well represent what I think is wrong with the film industry these days. I can let de-aging effects slide, like what some of the Marvel movies or even the recent Terminator flick have done, but the thought of talent like Audrey Hepburn, or Bruce Lee, or Robin Williams back from the dead to hawk high fiber cereals or a luxury sedan in an all-new performance makes my skin crawl.
I understand smaller studios are scrambling to come up with some sort of game changing box-office draw in a post-Disney monopoly world, but has it really come to this? I understand mining every old nostalgia-based franchise from the last few decades in an attempt to spark some of that cinematic goodwill, but calling on a computer to mine heartfelt human emotions, an actual soul... you can't pull that from polygons and strings of data.
Art isn't possible without human expression. And no matter what these filmmakers do to try and convince the audience, what they put on the screen definitely isn't going to be James Dean.